Editor’s note: This is the first in a multi-part series about the entrepreneurial atmosphere in Colorado Springs.
As the business community in Colorado Springs continues to evolve, entrepreneurs and leaders continually are looking north for inspiration.
“We’re definitely behind when compared to Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins,” said Chris Franz, a local entrepreneur. “They definitely have a stronger, more mature business ecosystem.”
A large factor in that equation — primarily for small startups and growing, young companies — is the business incubator: an increasingly popular destination for entrepreneurs wishing to concentrate on verticals such as education, access to capital, coworking and networking.
Sometimes called an “alternative to the MBA,” incubators are supposed to provide entrepreneurs with mentorship, professional consulting, training and the focus that is handy in the commercial world.
In Denver, Galvanize is making a name for itself as a one-stop coworking space with education, venture capital and accelerator components.
Innosphere, based in Fort Collins, continues to support high-growth businesses with traditional office space in a collaborative environment.
Boulder’s Innovation Center of the Rockies is a “virtual incubator” that provides the support services and consulting many startups need to attain and sustain success.
Colorado Springs has yet another category of incubator: one that has been recently been revived as a reinvention of its former self.
Rocky Mountain Innovation Partners
The Colorado Springs Technology Incubator was founded 15 years ago and bought a 22,000-square-foot building at 3595 E. Fountain Ave. in 2007.
In April, that same incubator sold the building for $650,000 — $2 million less than its purchase price — and began a rebranding process under leader Ric Denton, the Incubator’s CEO since 2011.
“Part of that process involved creating another entity … that has a similar mission but no legal relationship to the previous incubator,” Denton said of Rocky Mountain Innovation Partners, which he leads as CEO.
RMIP is now housed in the Catalyst Campus, a downtown commercial development that Denton hopes will become its own incubator with coworking spaces, industry collaboration and opportunities for investment.
“[Owner and developer] Kevin O’Neil’s model has really allowed us to focus on what we do best, which is to function as a virtual facility,” Denton said. “Whether you want to call it an incubator, an accelerator … we don’t care, as long as we’re serving our clients and giving them good counsel and advice.”
In the past 10 years, CSTI and RMIP have reported training 86 entrepreneurs in 37 client companies, having been granted 14 patents and helping secure $2 million in direct investment for its client companies through High Altitude Investors, a venture capital firm affiliated with the program.
RMIP’s primary success so far is the technology transfer partnership with the U.S. Air Force Academy that allows cadets and staff to commercialize the technologies they pioneer at the installation.
Denton said the organization is currently working with six clients, but is not taking any money from them.
When asked whether the organization looks toward Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins for tips on how to create and maintain a more successful ecosystem, Denton acknowledged that the Springs suffers from fragmentation — and that Denver is doing it right.
“A number of the people and companies that I’ve seen working up at Galvanize actually pitched to High Altitude Investors,” Denton said. “With that, I would definitely say they have a track record for capturing potentially good-quality companies that are still in their early stages. We truly don’t have, in my opinion, that level of energy and competency … in any one single place in Colorado Springs.”
Galvanize – Golden Triangle Campus (Denver)
Galvanize, a multi-campus nonprofit system based in California, operates two locations in Denver, one in Boulder and is preparing to open another in Fort Collins. Its flagship Golden Triangle campus, housed in a historic 30,000-square-foot building at 1062 Delaware St., has become wildly popular since it opened in 2012. That’s because it has more to offer than a traditional incubator, according to Executive Vice President of Marketing Ben Deda.
“Galvanize is an education company,” Deda said. “We’re a series of campuses that provides access to the skills, knowledge and network that you need as an individual or as a company to level up and make an impact … Regardless of where you are in your journey, Galvanize can be that place that you can come back to for help.”
The campus is home to 180 members and 40 companies, from single-person startups to satellite offices of multi-million-dollar international firms such as Pandora. Beyond that, Galvanize offers education and venture capital components that attract entrepreneurs from across the state.
Because of the campus’ coworking environment, the collaboration is evident. Reserve desks populate large, open areas, which also house study spaces for the program’s students.
“It’s all about bridging that gap between talent and demand, and helping business get to where they need to go,” Deda said.
The building also has a cafe and bar, owned by Galvanize, which are open to the public.
“I think that the primary thing for us is understanding that we have to be more than just a place to work,” Deda said.
Rocky Mountain Innosphere (Fort Collins)
Innosphere is a nonprofit “focused on supporting entrepreneurs who are building potential high-growth companies in clean tech, software, biosciences and digital health,” according to spokeswoman Emily Wilson.
She said the incubator looks for companies that meet the high-growth criteria and focuses on helping members gain access to mentorship, capital and support services. The end result is company growth and continued investment.
The company, headquartered in a 30,000-square-foot modern building near downtown Fort Collins, also operates in Denver and has a stand-alone facility in Golden.
Wilson said Innosphere works to “develop a tailored approach” for each of its client companies that includes “a high-performance plan for each company based on capital, talent and growth strategies.”
Once a company is accepted into the program, it is monitored by the organization to gauge the need for resources and mentorship, according to Wilson.
Last year, Innosphere helped 31 of its client companies generate revenue of $9.2 million and access $21.3 million in capital. It has raised nearly $50 million in capital to date. Those client companies employed 132 full-time workers with an average salary of $56,000 annually and 47 part-time workers with an average of $16,000 in annual compensation. The organization helps companies access capital through grants, loans, venture capital and angel investing, and maintains a major partnership with Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
“The biggest draw is definitely access to capital,” said Alex Woodman, building manager.
Innosphere’s headquarters building offers offices from 300 to about 1,000 square feet for both its client companies and firms that simply need space.
Woodman said the diversity of companies provides opportunities for collaboration throughout the building.
“It’s as easy as playing matchmaker for them, which is wonderful,” he said. “There is a lot of collaboration.”
He said that around 150 people flow in and out of the building each day, with more coming in for special events.
“It’s a very cool, high-energy place to be,” he said. “It’s very fun, and there’s a little bit of everything.”
Innovation Center of the Rockies (Boulder – virtual)
The Innovation Center of the Rockies, based in Boulder, has two specialties, according to Program Manager Eric Gricus.
“The first is working with university research teams to commercialize their research,” he said. “The second is working with very early-stage companies from the Boulder/Denver community and outside of Colorado.”
In 2014, the Innovation Center raised $6.1 million in capital for its client companies, which created 51 new jobs that paid a total of $8.7 million and earned revenues of $21.4 million. In its nine years, the organization has raised $105.8 million in capital for companies that have earned a combined $211.8 million in revenue and created 623 new jobs.
The incubator focuses primarily on the industry sectors of clean technology, engineering, bioscience, IT/software, aerospace and natural and organic foods with the end goal to create jobs and to leverage the local entrepreneurial community.
“The business landscape continues to evolve, but the one thing that never changes is the need for experience,” said Gricus. “Having the opportunity to learn from people who have faced similar issues or are the experts in an industry is invaluable.”
The center focuses heavily on commercializing technologies that emerge from the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the University of Wyoming, University of Denver and Colorado School of Mines. Its second focus is helping early-stage, high-growth companies become successful.
“The ICR is unique in that we are often working pre-company when working with university research teams. There is no company yet, just a technology,” Gricus said. “We bring industry domain experts to the table who help the faculty and university understand the commercial potential of an invention. The ICR also recruits the management team to execute on that potential.”
Gricus said the organization uses a network of 1,800 volunteer advisers who are matched to each of the clients based on technological, business and market expertise.
For the second and third parts in the series, click here: